Is a sugar free life sustainable with kids, career & a home to juggle? Let’s find out…

 

Avocado toast with egg and herbs on a rustic table

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I blogged how lunch with one of my oldest friends, and long-term cake buddy, Kuldip, led to a complete overhaul in my health (you can read that post here). Admittedly, I stared longingly at the dessert menu as she shared her inspiring journey into her new life without sugar but her energy and enthusiasm was infectious and she persuaded me to give it a go. After a rough couple of weeks withdrawing, now I’m so grateful she did. There have been many frantic messages (from me) and many calming answers (from her) exchanged over the past few weeks and her straightforward, relatable approach to sugar free living as a working mum I thought worth sharing. Kuldip has now started her own fabulous blog, Life Without Sugar, and it’s a pleasure to chat to her today about the white stuff.

Kuldip, let’s go back a few weeks. What was the catalyst for such a dramatic dietary change?

I just felt rubbish all the time. When you are busy, working, have small kids and a house that’s a fixer-upper, it’s natural and forgivable to blame a general malaise on that, but I just knew that I was on the road to poor health and I that I had to change, but change what?

Exactly! I think sometimes the easier part is knowing we need to change and over the years we’ve tried pretty much everything between us haven’t we?

Yes! There are so many diet plans out there, and they will tell you what to do, and some will tell you what not to do, but none of them explains why? Like properly WHY. Without knowing that I failed at all of them because, it seemed that I depended on willpower alone.

But you’ve always been quite determined when you want to be. Do you feel your willpower is weak?

Not weak exactly. I already use willpower. Not to swear in the car when the kids are in there with me, not scream at frustrating emails at work, not to throw things out the window when they refuse to work properly etc. So, I know I have willpower. But why do I need willpower over food? It’s something that felt so odd to me. Then one day I got a look at myself in a full-length mirror, I hadn’t really looked at myself for nearly two years and I was shocked at how terrible I looked. I felt at the end of my tether, honestly at my wit’s end so when I came across an article about sugar, it all fell into place. The need for willpower is because sugar is addictive and sugar is in a tremendous amount of food that we consume, and we aren’t aware that it’s even there. So we try to abstain, and we fail.

What to do? Get rid of it.

Put like that it sounds so simple but I know from experience it isn’t. What were your first steps?

It usually takes me a while to prepare for a diet or plan, but this hit home straight away. Probably because it isn’t a diet or a plan, its simply saying, ‘Sugar doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t have it.’ I immediately researched books and experts and consumed their knowledge and then that was it, I couldn’t stop talking about it, as you well know.

Yes. I never did get my cake that day! My husband couldn’t believe it when I got home. What does your husband think about it all?

Thanks to my history of constantly pursuing the next thing, my husband assumed that I had started another fad diet and braced himself for what I would insist that we eat for our evening meals. He has been the subject of many a dietary change poor fella. But this one, this one has stuck. He was ok with my ridding the shelves of all things high sugar, but put his foot down over the balsamic vinegar, the Asian sauces, like hoisin, soy, and teriyaki and ketchup – which are positively loaded with sugar. But the rest is gone.

I got exactly the same reaction, for exactly the same reasons but Tim has seen all the positive effects on my health so far and is now trying it himself. 

It makes it easier having that support doesn’t it? Now that I have started the blog and am actively reading sugar-free cookbooks, he is taking me a bit more seriously. Before, you would see me with a cookbook if I were handing it to him so he could cook. He has reduced his sugar because there isn’t so much of it in the house anymore, but he still likes a pudding or a handful of biscuits through the day. Though the other day he did say that he might give it up too – I stopped myself from reeling off a load of facts that would make him instantly regret that he had said it and just nodded and said ‘it’s the easiest health choice you can make.’ He’s a pretty healthy eater, so I don’t worry about him too much anyway.

The men are probably the easiest to convince as we’re all getting older with the inevitable aches and pains. The kids though! Yours are so young so it must be easier they can’t source anything you don’t give them. Teenagers are a different matter…

Yes, my two begin so young definitely helps. I started talking to them about it, they have interpreted is as Mummy doesn’t like sugar. Outside and occasionally inside the home, I let them eat cakes because that’s the society we live in, and I don’t want to exclude my family from everyday situations as a result of what I am doing. It has made me want to cook! And find some sugar-free alternatives to those ‘treats.’

Haha – I’m saying nothing about your cooking… Back to the girls, I remember the primary school years so well, the endless birthday party invitations. How do you feel about the food they will likely be served?

I’ll let the girls eat whatever they want at birthday parties. When at parties, I find that they are starting to leave the birthday cake now, so I like to think their taste buds are changing.

My approach is to make the changes at home and hope that they use it as their blueprint for eating elsewhere. For their own birthday party, I requested a reduced sugar cake from the baker, and it went down a storm, nobody noticed. Their party bags didn’t have any sweets or chocolate in them, I just packed them out with little toys which I think are more fun anyway. We only served water – which young children will just accept, especially on a hot day. They had sandwiches and crisps, I obliged a few parents with jam fillings, and my girls had ham. It was pretty easy to party without sugar, and I don’t think anyone noticed the lack of it. It made me realise how much adults impose the idea of ‘children = sugary treats’ when actually, that really doesn’t have to be the case

They have never developed a taste for juices so prefer water and milk because that’s what we have given them at home. They love biscuits, and I’m okay with that as there are some low sugar biscuits about there – plain digestives and shortbread are usually pretty good (about 2.4g per biscuit), and if you make homemade with a sugar alternative, you’re laughing.

Absolutely. I’m baking more now than I was when I ate sugar because it’s so difficult to find treats off the shelf. Perfecting sugar free scones and jam brought tears to my eyes! It’s the one thing I knew I’d really miss. What have you missed the most?

I don’t think I miss anything you know. I thought I would miss ice cream but the need for it has gone. I did accept a Mr. Whippy ice-cream recently – my mother-in-law visited and bought us all one. It was delicious, but I had a headache for the rest of the afternoon, had a terrible night’s sleep and felt ill the next day! So not worth it! 

I felt like that the first time I drank wine after 2 weeks sugar free, I felt as though I’d been poisoned. I’m still having the odd glass though. How about chocolate – I know we’ve both eaten an obscene amount over the years.

I haven’t yet thought ‘ooh I could murder a Snickers’ which was a constant thought during any diets I’ve been on.

I’m eating 80% chocolate now and honestly don’t need more than a couple of squares. I think most of my snacking is emotionally based. I haven’t felt the need as I’ve felt full but I’m still making snacks for my husband and subsequently we’re trying lots of new good. Have you discovered anything new?

My new favourite snack, dessert, breakfast is Greek yoghurt, with a small handful of blueberries and strawberries, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Oh my, I just love it. If you said that I would treat that like I did ice-cream, cakes or my favourite sweets, then I would have told you to leave and not politely! It’s amazing. I found out that cinnamon helped with sugar cravings so started adding it in, but now I just love the taste.

I’m less reliant on them now, but Nairn cheese oatcakes were a godsend for snack attacks. I have fewer snack attacks now as I am full at most meals, but now use them in the girls’ lunch boxes instead of crisps or even as well as crisps, it’s all low sugar and will fill them up.

Chai tea – it’s comforting and although it has minimal sugar, is quite sweet and it has cinnamon in it!

 I’m going to try that with Greek yoghurt. I thought snacking would be my biggest challenge but that has proven to be eating out which we do quite regularly. How have you found it?

I thought eating out was going to be tough, but it hasn’t been that bad. Fish dishes are usually safe to go for; salads are surprisingly tricky because of the dressing, so I ask for it without or on the side. Steak and chips are excellent, particularly if you go for sweet potato chips. I had a lovely aubergine and chickpea burger the other day. I took half the bun off, as I couldn’t fit the thing into my mouth anyway! I figure that the remaining burger bun had at most 1g of added sugar, so let it slide. During withdrawal, I tried to keep down to 10g of all sugars, added or natural. I’m a bit more relaxed about tracking it now, because I have an idea of who much sugar is in things, plus if you keep to whole foods then you really don’t have to worry so much.

Dessert whilst eating out is still a challenge, just because I have had them my whole life – it’s been a habit for so long. I remember eating the main just to get to the dessert! So, I will either kill the urge and have a peppermint tea or go for the cheese board avoiding the pickles.

Oh after over 20 years on weight watchers I’m eating so much full fat cheese and loving it! Lastly, what has been the biggest challenge?

Firstly, withdrawal is not pretty. It’s different for all of us, but I used to binge on sweets daily, so I got hit quite hard when withdrawing. If I could, I would have taken a week off from life to get through it.

I don’t cook – I never enjoyed cooking. I felt nothing for it. I now have to cook and that started off as a challenge. In fact, it’s taking me until nearly day 60 of being sugar-free to purchase a sugar-free cookbook! Most of our evening meals were healthy anyway as I drew upon the many of the books that I have bought with all the diet plans that I’ve tried. Each of them has produced some favourites. But now the mission is to have the odd sweetened treat, but a healthier less harmful version. Watch this space.

BIG thanks to Kuldip for joining me today and for her encouragement. Please do check out and sign up to her blog here and follow her sugar free journey. 

 

 

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Flash Fiction – The Longing

Image courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

 

Sleep evades me. The longing for you is fierce and painful. I tell myself you’re no good for me, that I’m better off without you but there’s a void deep inside me that can’t be filled.

Again, I check the time. Not quite midnight. The night stretches before me long and slow. There’s a sinking, dawning realisation that I just can’t live without you.

I slip my feet into slippers, pad downstairs and there you are.

On the table.

Chocolate frosting glistening. Sponge light and soft.

Grabbing a knife and a plate I take you back to bed.

The diet can start next week.

 

The prompt made me smile, something you need, and very apt for me this week for those who have read about my 14 day sugar free challenge which you can read about here.

I’m absolutely delighted that my newly published 4th psychological thriller, The Date, has already hit No.1 on Apple’s iBookstore as well as the Amazon top 20 in both the UK & US. For the next dew days only it’s on special offer across all digital platforms for £0.99/$0.99. You can find it on your local amazon here.

The Longing was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word photo challenge inspired by a prompt. Read the other entries and/or join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here

 

 

Seven days sugar free & this is how I feel…

It’s been seven days now since I decided to overhaul my diet and attempt to eliminate sugar and you can read my post on why here.

During this time almost everyone I’ve mentioned it to, on-line and off, has an opinion on the right approach so let’s get that bit out of the way first. There is no right approach. Instead, there’s the approach that seems achievable for you and your family, whether that’s cutting out sugary snacks, processed food or eliminating the white stuff entirely. I’m not an expert. This isn’t a post with ‘rules’ but rather a sharing of what I’ve found helpful, the challenges I’ve faced and how I overcame them (or not).

By day one I was raring to go. After much research (there’s an awful lot of information out there and a lot of it contradictory) I decided to base my experiment on David Gillespie’s method. His Sweet Poison book explained the science simply and clearly. I bought this book along with The Sweet Poison Quit plan but to be honest you could get away with only reading The Quit Plan because it explains the science (although not quite as in-depth) and also has recipes and pointers.

In his plan carbs are not banned – hurrah – (although white pasta, bread and rice are) and the occasional glass of wine is allowed. The odd potato will not send you straight to hell which was very good news for my husband when it came to our Sunday roast. And fruit is allowed (although no more than 2 pieces and berries are favoured).

Planning is the key to such a dramatic lifestyle change. Often, I’m working on ‘one more chapter’ and I lose track of time only to hare around to M & S to buy something I can shove in the oven. There is literally nothing without sugar you can just shove in the oven so meals were carefully thought out, and the fridge stocked.

Much of my meal plan was based around Sarah Flower’s The Sugar Free Family Cookbook. Many of the sugar free cookbooks I looked at (and I spent an hour in the bookshop) contain huge amounts of honey, or dried fruit, date paste. These are not sugar free and the huge spikes in fructose WILL leave you hungry.

The first day kicked off with porridge with a small amount of blueberries. Lunch was a smoked salmon and avocado salad. I’d already checked the sugar content on my usual low fat salad dressing and was shocked to find out it was 17g per 100ml. This is a LOT of sugar. Instead I drizzled chilli infused garlic oil. I often have salads for lunch and they only generally fill me up for a couple of hours. Without the spike in sugar from salad dressing I wasn’t hungry all afternoon. I’ve found that although sugars are hidden in almost everything dressings and condiments are amongst the worst.

Cooking dinner was, if I’m honest, a little frightening. I made moussaka which is one of my husband’s favourites. For years I’ve followed the Weight Watcher’s recipe. Low fat yoghurt and cheese. The Sarah Flower’s method was alien to me. Frying the aubergine in oil. Using full fat cheese and cream. I reminded myself as I sat down to eat that this isn’t a weight loss mission. It’s not about getting slimmer (although it is a bit…) but more about my health. My family loved the food. I couldn’t finish my portion and for the first time, I think ever, I didn’t have the urge to snack in the evening. I was too full. This was a trend that carried on all week – I’ve not once snacked in the evenings. It’s been hard to let go of the emotional comfort my ‘the kids are in bed let’s eat’ ritual brings, I’ve been doing it for years and that’s been one of the hardest things to change.

On day two I took my son for a pub lunch. The salads on the menu didn’t look too inspiring and it’s what I usually eat at home so I went with a steak and a handful of chips. (If you’re rolling your eyes at chips please refer to above about making changes that are realistic and feasible and hey there’s no added sugar). It was hard resisting the ketchup and vinegar but again I struggled to finish. We always have desserts and even though I thought I’d opt for cheese I just wasn’t hungry. It was 7 o’ clock before I realised I had skipped dinner. I was still full but I thought I’d better eat. I cut some crudités, cheese and spooned a small amount of homous onto a plate. Homous is something I eat regularly, again usually low fat. It was shocking comparing the labels and realising how much sugar is in low fat foods. No wonder dieters always feel ravenous with the fructose spikes making it impossible to know when they’ve eaten enough.

Day three brought with it a weird stabbing pain in my forehead that just wouldn’t go. Again, I ate out with friends but there was nothing suitable on the menu. I asked the kitchen to grill me some chicken and serve with an undressed salad (don’t be afraid to ask for what you want). Uninspired, but my head hurt too much to eat.  For dinner I wanted to try Sarah Flower’s ‘hot head’ pizza but discovered although I’d bought all the ingredients the base sauce took 8 hours to cook. I chucked everything in a slow cooker and left overnight to have tomorrow. Instead we had ratatouille with halloumi but even my favourite squeaky cheese didn’t make me feel any better.

Day four my head still hurt and I barely had the energy to get out of bed. Usually I’d go for a swim but it was exhausting just getting dressed. The sauce for the pizza was ready so I made the bases, almost entirely of cheese. If I’m not the size of a house by the end of this experiment I’ll be amazed. (It’s not about weight. It’s not about weight). I told the kids over and over again that they wouldn’t taste like real pizza’s until they said I was ruining it for them before they’d even tried them. Unanimously we all agreed we liked them better than regular pizza’s and even though I’d made one each they were so filling we could easily have shared.

Day five and the weird stabbing pain was still in my head. I’d been longing to write book 5 but my focus was non-existent. I was so tired I could cry. I had to run some errands and outside of the house I felt increasingly anxious until I had a panic attack. Panic attacks, I’d hoped were part of my dim and distant path and I drove home wondering whether this was all worth it. For dinner I made a curry. Again, I’d been making weight watchers curry recipes for years but this one had oils and creams and my family said it was the best curry they’d ever tasted.

Day six and I woke to find my hands didn’t hurt quite as much as they normally did. The point of this dietary change for me is to try and reduce my inflammation, as well as boost my energy (ha! No change there yet). I tried to write but although I couldn’t concentrate my fingers moved freely.  My 4th psychological thriller, The Date, is newly published & I’ve spent more time than usual on social media, on my phone. This is usually agonising for my poor hands. Hearteningly, already less so. My kids wanted burgers for dinner and so I made them from scratch. They’d never go without ketchup and so I found a recipe here and made some. It only took half an hour and we all agreed was nicer than Heinz. Cheeringly, I think it would make a fabulous base for the pizzas so no more 8 hour prep – hurrah. It’s Saturday and we generally eat desserts at the weekend so I made a raspberry mousse from Sarah Flowers and it was delicious.

Day seven. My headache had gone, my pain less and today I felt more energetic than I had for ages (probably because it was the first time I’d slept properly all week). I nervously weighed myself (I’d eaten so much fat this week) and was surprised and relieved to see I’d remained the same. Somehow I’ve lost an inch from my waist and my stomach is noticeably flatter, my clothes looser.

My husband’s had been missing sweet snacks and so I baked a sugar free lemon drizzle cake, again from Sarah’s recipes. Again, I kept telling my family it wouldn’t taste like cake but surprisingly it did. It was light, moist and disappeared VERY quickly.

It’s been tough, I think the exhaustion has been the worst, but it’s encouraging to see a reduction in my pain already. I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I’ll keep you posted!

Below are my two favourite recipes from this week.

From Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free Family Cookbook – available on Amazon here.

Lemon Drizzle Cake.

100g butter

100g full fat cheese

75g erythritol blend (I bought mine from Amazon. Expensive but you don’t need much at one time)

90g almond flour (I found cheaper to buy supermarket ground almonds)

40g coconut flour (I sourced mine at Asda)

1 tsp baking powder

Zest 2-3 lemons (squeeze juice to drizzle over cake)

5 eggs

Sarah shares a method but I just chucked everything in my Magimix and blitzed for 30/60 seconds. I used a silicone loaf tin and baked on gas mark 3 (170) for 50 minutes. Drizzle over the lemon juice once out the oven (I didn’t quite use all my juice). Let it cool before you turn it out or it will crumble.

Ketchup

This invaluable recipe for ketchup (also a pizza base – hurrah) is from Sugar Free Londoner fabulous blog which you can find here.

400g tin chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove (I used lazy garlic)

¼ tsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp onion powder (I used dried onion flakes)

I pinch ground allspice

1 pinch cinnamon (cinnamon helps reduce sugar cravings btw)

Salt & pepper

Throw everything in a pan on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently until it thickens. It keeps in the fridge for about a week.

You can check out how I get on during my second week here.

My 14 day sugar free challenge

A couple of weeks ago I met an old friend in our usual coffee shop and was very much looking forward to our obligatory huge slabs of cake.

‘I’m sugar free now,’ she said.

‘Why?’ I tried to ignore the stabbing pain of betrayal as I gazed longingly at the desserts behind the counter.

‘You know why.’ She gave me the look. Pretty much the same one our tutor gave us when we first met on a nutritional therapy course fifteen years ago.

Sugar is bad. We all know that and yet we continue to eat it.

‘But sugar tastes so good!’ I said.

‘I’ve just read Sweet Poison by David Gillespie and it explains everything so well.  All that stuff we were taught but we choose to ignore nowadays. Buy the book.’ She said

‘I don’t want to.’

‘Honestly, Louise. You have so much pain and inflammation it could really help you. Plus you don’t sleep well. Buy the book.’

‘It’s too big a lifestyle change.’ I protested.

‘You can still drink wine, she said.

I bought the book.

The next day Amazon delivered the book, along with some sugar free recipe ones I’d also ordered and as I unpacked them I realised I didn’t really want to go sugar free but I’d been swept away by my friend’s passion and enthusiasm. Nevertheless that evening found me curled on the sofa with a large glass of wine and a big bar of fruit and nut flicking through the pages.  As I read, everything I’d previously learned came flooding back. How our body’s can’t recognise fructose and never realise we are full when we eat it. The massive part sugar plays in inflammation. The way the sugar spikes can affect our mental health. Interfere with our sleep patterns. Suddenly the mouthful of chocolate I’d been chewing didn’t taste quite so good.

My diet has gradually deteriorated since signing a book deal. Long hours spent at my computer has seen our meals, once lovingly prepared from scratch, now frantically purchased from M&S. And I felt sick. Sick of feeling sick. Sick of feeling tired. In pain. Falling into bed exhausted at the end of each day knowing I’d spend half the night lying awake. What was I doing to my poor body which has already been through so much?

I’ve spent the last few days reading. There’s so much information out there and much of it conflicting. I’ve planned meals, shopped, mentally prepared and today is the first day of my 14 day sugar free experiment. I’m not expecting miracles and I’m not expecting it to be easy but I’m feeling excited about what lies ahead. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

UPDATE – You can read how I found the first 7 days sugar free here.The second week is here

 

 

 

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash